Back label watch: “handcrafted”

Usage of the term “handcrafted” on wine back labels is increasing.

In related news, the space for “machine crafted” on labels remains wide open.

Nonsensical label words: TERMINATED.

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35 Responses to “Back label watch: “handcrafted””

  1. And handcrafted “at sunrise” yet! Nice catch.

  2. I asked the question this morning on Twitter about information people want to see on a wine label as I am co-writing one at the moment. The answers seem split nearly 50/50 between desrire for and disdain of tasting notes. Farming and notes on how the wine is made are consistently of interest.

    I realize that I have some “deal breakers” when it comes to vocabularly: “Vanilla”, “Cedar-box”, and “jammy” are all words that make me put a bottle down. In general, I tend to ignore tasting notes in wine, but not in coffee, where I am happy to read about darker vs. lighter aromas.

    I’d love to hear the Dr.Vino crowd’s thoughts on what is important to consumers.

  3. I think people want to enjoy what they read on a back label, whether it is interesting or entertaining. The usual uninspired marketing twaddle is neither. (This blog comment was handcrafted by El Jefe on a cool morning in the sun-graced Sierra Foothills.)

  4. Nice one Tyler. I agree 100%. Wineries tend to use too many nonsensical words when trying to sell their wine. Handcrafted is one of the worst. Wines are ALL handcrafted. That is why they have winemakers.

  5. I’m a wine consumer not affiliated with the wine industry and here’s what I like to see on labels: Easy-to-find alcohol content; listing of the grapes used with percentages unless it’s a “kitchen sink” blend, in which case a general description is fine. If it’s an unusual grape or an unusual blend, I like to see some description of what it might taste like and whether it’s dry, off-dry, etc. And I agree with the rest of Damien’s informal focus group that information about where and how the wine was made is always good. I’m also happier with straightforward descriptions – “hand harvested at sunrise” and phrases of similar ilk are a little too precious.

  6. We are a retail wine shop that would love to see more production numbers along with blend quantities on back/front labels. Our entire retail concept is based on micro production wines.(Avg. annual production per label <5k cases)

  7. Good feedback, thank you all. I think El Jefe’s point is a reminder that anything one writes should be worth reading. That’s so obvious people seem to forget about it.

    Christine – in this case it will be a “kitchen sink” blend of grapes that are all grown in a single Tuscan vineyard. To keep costs down, we want to avoid specific numbers on % so that we do not have to reprint and have labels reapproved each year, and yet we want to talk about the true nature of the wine.

    Microwines – we are looking at a production of 800 to 1000 cases, so when you open in IL, we’d be happy to sell you some!

  8. This has nothing to do with’wine labels’ but I do love the “Ribitt” on the Frog’s Leap cork.

  9. I agree with Damien that “a blend of grapes grown in a Tuscan vineyard” is plenty for a wine in which several grapes are used. Sineann makes a table wine that they describe as being composed of grapes from most of the wines they produce in a year, and that’s fine too.

    And, thank you, microwines. I love to see production numbers too.

  10. Check out Paul Greggut’s blog on Hedges Family Estate’s new label.

  11. The “ribbit” is classic.

    I like the gun + lock + bun + shoe as well.

  12. I refuse to drink anything that proclaims a Gold Medal win at some obscure, made up competition, with matching gold ribbon sticker. Or anything that’s been reviewed highly by Jay Miller.

  13. “a blend of grapes grown in a Tuscan vineyard”, another wonderful evocative term is field blend. I have always enjoyed the back labels on the Ridge wines.

  14. Great discussion, but I am inspired what Michael has said: “all wines are handcrafted, that is why they have winemakers”. Unfortunately, this is so not true. Trust me, I am right in the middle of wine production. Handpicking grapes and selecting them is not always done, working manually in the cellar is a luxury. Gosh, there are wineries around that have three employees for one vat working in shifts, pushing buttons.

    The same with the assumptions that all wines are natural (they are made from grapes, right?). When it comes to cellar management, a lot of those bottles around us would arouse motherly instincts with chemical companies…
    This gap between perception and reality is worse in the lower price segments. So would that lead to the conclusion that the cheaper the wine, the more the label of a serious wine would need to explain techniques in cellar & vineyard? In a way that makes consumers understand the importance of these differences to mass-production?

    Thanks, Lee

  15. here’s a video of our handcrafted wines

  16. Lee – I have enjoyed meeting and tasting with Michael at Pinot Days here in Chicago and in SF. Your wines are esoteric in a good way. Tried to watch the video but it did not play in my microsoft browser, fyi.

  17. Hi Damien,
    The previous link didn’t happen if you are on pc’s. Try our Facebook page instead (the video is on the page).

    or for a larger version try this

    Many thanks too for your kind words

  18. My favourite is “the grapes were harvested at optimum maturity” – I’m waiting for the back label that says “We picked unripe and over-ripe grapes then…”

  19. I like to see grape types and would like to see more on sweetness level. I like basic tasting notes, but they can be risky if I don’t find what’s in the bottle to match the description. A recommendation from a wine shop employee with a decent palate is worth more than any label ever will be.

  20. What turns me off is when I read this wine is made with such and such a grape varietal. Chardonnay, Merlot, etc. are grape varieties not varietals. A wine may have varietal aromas or a varietal character but the grape itself is a variety. “Varietal” is an adjective. Just a pet peeve of mine

  21. A reader just sent in this detailed label from New Zealand:


  22. Words have different meanings to different people. Handcrafted implies a higher level of care in the process of making wine. Some honor the historical traditions and other use the word exclusively for marketing purposes.

    It is true consumers are challenged to truly know what goes on behind the scenes. The video & photos below shows the different type of care that winemakers use.

  23. If you have been in a Gallo plant(notice I said “plant” not winery) and also visited a 2,500 case producing winery you will better understand why some choose to use “handcrafted”. Overused, yes. Meaningless, no.

  24. Are those hand-crafted wines or hand-crafted barrels?

    I don’t know, hand-crafted doesn’t mean anything to me on a wine. Anyone can use the phrase.

    Maybe you could be more specific – put stuff on your bottles that the big producers can’t put without getting called out. Equipment used, names of the individuals who picked the grapes, etc.

    “My dog Ralf and I picked the grapes between 3am and 9am Sunday morning 9/6/09. It was cold, but we beat the rain (just!). 85% of grapes were mature, and we chose the best 50% of our harvest for this wine. After poached eggs and Alpo for breakfast, we put on our boots and mashed the grapes. Ralf slept in the fermentation room for the next 8 days. I filtered the wine into 3 hand-crafted, lightly used French oak barrels (recently acquired from a neighbor). No pumps were used. Ralf moved his bed to the barrel room where the wine aged for the next 5 months. (Ralf’s bed is a half-barrel with a pillow inside given to him by the man who purchased our very first case of wine seven years ago. Thanks, Bob!)”

    To answer the question, though, here’s what I *need* to see on a label, the more expensive the wine the more of these I want to see:

    1) Alcohol content and grapes used
    2) Pairing notes
    3) Tasting notes
    4) Grape sources (vineyards, locations, etc)
    5) Future drinkability prediction

    With that info, I can pick a wine quickly for any purpose. If I want to spend more time, I’ll talk to the wine guy at the store.

  25. We eschewed (love the chance to use that word)back-label prose for more than two decades. Then it came time to write some. Yikes! Alcohol–wow, does that get fudged a lot, esp. in Pinot Noir. Pairing notes–well, I believe the ‘no accounting for taste’ dictum. Flavor description–tough to convey meaningful information, yet necessary.Drinkability prediction–see the ‘no accounting for taste’ dictum. BTW, NZ label is DQed for use of “perfect” in describing their own wine.

  26. I’m a wine industry veteran, and a real-wine guy (a dying breed?) and I was recently having dinner with a winery owner of “hand-crafted” wines that called her winery a “plant”–and almost choked on my ceviche. Regarding labels, I advise clients to lighten up on the tasting notes and use that space on a label to say something about the grape origin and/or the vineyard site. Wine is an expression of place, on several levels, and is what speaks most to me. It is actually terrific reading these responses and hearing so many consumers de-classifying the flavor profiling.

  27. One thing I really like that is on that NZ label is that the “Standard Drinks” in the bottle is mentioned. I believe that this is a legal requirement in NZ and the UK. It would be really nice to have this sort of standardized system in the US so that we can monitor our alcohol consumption. This is even more important because there are so many 15%+ wines on the shelves (marked as 14.5% of course).

    Most of the other information people put on label is pretty meaningless. There are plenty of wines out there with wonderful stories on the label but the fact of the matter is that thee wines are made of plonk purchased from the bulk market. Mostly, this info is geared toward trying to get a sale from a casual consumer where a cheap thrill and a nice story wins. There is nothing wrong with that, but talk is cheap.

  28. David,

    Interesting about alc%. How/why are they fudged? Why especially in pinots?

    I admit I don’t know much about this, but I’ve had a few “oh, wow, that’s good!” moments drinking high-alc% Italian reds. It seems to have an impact on the style of the wine.

    As I posted in the comments of the other “back label” post, I shouldn’t say “tasting notes” or “pairing notes” – poor choice of phrases on my part. But I do want “style” notes and notes that suggest how the wine might be enjoyed.

    Think about me browsing alone through a shop looking for wine to serve tonight and for the rest of the week. What info do I want the moment I pick up a bottle to look at?

    Anyway I think there should be SOME accounting for taste!

  29. Mike,

    In the case of wines that contain more than 14% alc by volume, 1% point of wiggle room is allowed. So if a wine has 14.9% on the label, the actual alcohol content can be anywhere between 14 and 15.9%. That is a big difference and wineries tend to understate their alcohol content.

    The stated percentage must be within 0.5% of the actual in the case of exported wine.

  30. Thanks for the info. Even with that range, it’s still useful to have. My weeknight drinking is nearly always limited to under 14 percent, with 13.5 percent and under preferred. My reason: I want two 5 oz. glasses and that amount at high alcohol leaves me a little buzzed.

  31. @ Ron McFrland and @ David – Sure, handcrafted may mean something to you but it’s bordering on cliche. As Cathy Corison tweeted in response to this post: “Following in the footsteps of “premium”, “reserve”, “boutique”?” And “luxury” used to mean something too.

    So a question to you, for the sake of discussion: if handcrafted means “natural” (and it may well not), then why don’t those producers push for mandatory ingredient labeling? They would have nothing to put on the back label but “grapes and sulfur.” But that’s not the case for everyone. It would certainly be a step toward moving back labels away from cliches.

    And to all: don’t forget to see our broader discussion of back labels.

  32. @ Ron McFrland and @ David – Sure, handcrafted may mean something to you but it’s bordering on cliche. As Cathy Corison tweeted in response to this post: “Following in the footsteps of “premium”, “reserve”, “boutique”?” And “luxury” used to mean something too.

    So a question to you, for the sake of discussion: if handcrafted means “natural” (and it may well not), then why don’t those producers push for mandatory ingredient labeling? They would have nothing to put on the back label but “grapes and sulfur.” But that’s not the case for everyone. It would certainly be a step toward moving back labels away from cliches.

    The wine cliches are not only limited to handcrafted – here are a few more – artisan – small production – boutique – family – authentic – sure your readers will pick up the ones I missed.

    I am in favor of disclosing the ingredients & cases produced on the back label – most consumers would be surprised and appalled to see a list of additives that read like the back of a twinkie package.

    Great consumer article several years ago in LA Times about wine additives – down right scary.

    So yes, if you are lobbying for more disclosure about what goes into the bottle – I am with you.

    I also think it would be a good discussion for those members in groups like Family Wine Makers in California to share what these potential cliche words mean to them.

    I also believe these words to be honorable and justified in use – just no way to know without lots of research.

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